Anime Review: Angel Beats Episode 13 (final)

(Originally published on Livejournal on 7/23/10)

Anime Review:
Angel Beats Episode 13 (finale)

About The Series: Otonashi awakens without any memories, on the campus of a high school that serves as a sort of afterlife Purgatory. He is met by the indefatigable Yuri, who leads a ragtag group of students who are fighting against God and their fate, and he soon learns that you cannot die in this world, but you can experience the pain of death. The campus is populated by “Non-player characters” who go about their daily lives as if in a video game; their only enemy in this world is the student council president, Tenshi, who has supernatural skills to defend herself.

ep.13 tl;dr review: The remaining Brigade members hold a graduation ceremony and fade away; Final tear-jerking twist between Otonashi and Kanade.

Episode 13 Synopsis (spoilers): Four days have passed since the big climax, and Yuri awakens in the infirmary to find everyone has passed on from this world except for four remaining Brigade members: Otonashi, Hinata, Naoi and Kanade. They stuck around so that the five of them can hold a final graduation ceremony, where they sing the traditional Japanese graduation song and hand out diplomas. One by one they say their goodbyes, until only Otonashi and Kanade remain. The two of them head outside, where Otonashi asks Kanade if she could join him, stick around to guide future troubled souls who may arrive in this Purgatory. Kanade declines, and explains the reason why she *really* has not yet disappeared: She needed to thank the person who donated a heart so that she could live longer in her previous life. That organ donor happened to be Otonashi, and now relieved of her burden to give thanks, she disappears as well.

My Thoughts: Following the hectic pace of the past two episodes, it seems like they were rushing like mad to make space in this final episode to just slow down and make one, big, teary goodbye. This episode is all sweet and sappy, everyone hugging and crying and getting all wistful and saying their farewells. Sure, it’s a nice little epilogue to the story, but blatantly sickly-sweet as well. Especially the “Oooh, wait for it, the big twist!” at the end where Otonashi and Kanade’s intertwined lives are explained. Double-especially at the very,very end, when it was alluded that Otonashi and Kanade cross paths again in their future reincarnations. Would you like that coffee with twenty dollops of sugar…or thirty?

The Verdict:

SERIES FINAL GRADE: B

Angel Beats was a flawed, imperfect series that was still largely enjoyable. Some of the problems I have mentioned before, such as introducing way, way, WAAAYY to many characters — it’s just plain impossible to adequately flesh out nearly two dozen people in a dozen twenty-minute episodes. Also, the whip-sawing between gritty drama and wacky comedy was bewildering, leading to a disjointed, uneven pace.

At first I was worried about the characters being too one-dimensional and derivative, but as the series played out the main characters of Otonashi, Yuri and Kanade turned out to be more complex people than expected. Some of the more speculative theories about the true nature of their Purgatory (e.g. Everyone is really just in a coma, or this is a virtual reality existence) ultimately proved nothing more than speculation. There were a few good jokes and few good emotional scenes, a few good songs. But there were also quite a few way-overplayed jokes (“Call me Christ”) and the whole “final boss” thing was weak (felt like it was thrown in there at the last minute to wrap up the series quickly, not even the slightest allusion for the first ten episodes). And never underestimate the power of an anime show to push the popularity of something, even as little-known as mapo tofu.

Jun Maeda has publicly stated that the series was just simply too short to tell the complete story that he wanted to tell, so he was going to have to supplement it with other external media releases. Which begs the question: If he knew from the beginning that he couldn’t do the story justice in a half-season anime format, then why even attempt it in the first place? I mean, Angel Beats clearly had the potential to be a really great series if done *correctly*, but by forcing it into a format that ill-suited its needs, it has been reduced from “great” to merely “good”. The project could have been scaled back somewhat to focus on a less ambitious scope, focusing on just a few main characters, for example. Or, the project could have been expanded to a full-season of 24-26 episodes, giving all the disjointed, underserved snippets of plot a chance to be tied together. It all boils down to the hubris of Maeda, I suppose.

On the Sound Opinions ‘Buy It, Burn It, Trash It’ Scale, Angel Beats would earn a fairly solid “Burn It”. A decent enough series, but ultimately nothing amazing and it will most likely be almost totally forgotten in a few years. A pity, because you could almost *taste* the potential when the show first started.

Up Next: Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Senkou no Night Raid (interlude), Arakawa Under the Bridge (finale), Ookami-san, Highschool of the Dead, Mitsudomoe, Occult Academy

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